Beauty

The best skincare products, according to beauty experts

Posted by
Shannon Peter
Published

Stuck in a dull, lacklustre post-summer skin rut? This is the perfect time to study the latest skincare syllabus.

Whether yours consists of a quick cleanse-and-go or the diligent layering of multiple serums, there’s something resolutely personal about your skincare routine. In fact, it’s so innate, so individual a ritual, that your approach is ingrained before you’ve even had the chance to dunk your pre-teen fingers into a pot of Nivea. As a child, watching your mother cleanse her skin or dot on her eye cream had more of an effect on you than you might have realised at the time. Consciously or not, we soak up those rituals in our early years and they follow us through our adult lives. 

“Scent comes into the mix, too,” believes psychologist Suzy Reading. “The association with the presence of our mothers is comforting and reassuring, like the smell of home.” If the herbaceous aroma of Liz Earle’s Cleanse & Polish is enough to transport you back to a fond childhood memory, it becomes clear why you haven’t deviated since your teens. 

Of course, we dabble in buzzy new products but, as creatures of habit, we’re reluctant to divert too much from what we know. 

Skincare products often require persistent use over time before you see any effects and, for this reason, many of us are inclined to stick with what we know rather than risk a new cream that may or may not work.

And when dealing with a realm as crowded, confusing and (let’s face it) expensive as skincare, experimentation is a nerve-racking business. But how can you be certain you’ve reached your clear, glowy skin potential if you’ve never veered from your existing regime? “Your skin changes not just through the years, but seasonally too,” reveals skin specialist Debbie Thomas. “Over time, using incorrect products can cause issues like sensitivity and congestion, so you need to assess your skin regularly.” Frankly, your best ever complexion might just lie at the end of a skincare shake-up.

To test this theory, we tasked four of the most stuck-in-a-skincare-rut Stylist team members to revaluate what they put on their faces and, with the help of experts, build a new routine that could change their skin for the better, forever. Perhaps mother doesn’t always know best…

“I didn’t know how to tackle my dark circles”

Hanna Ibraheem, 28, Stylist’s beauty writer, has always been self-conscious of her dark undereye circles. She had an appointment with Debbie Thomas at the D.Thomas Clinic.

I’ve always had various skin issues. I have an oily T-zone and incredibly oily eyelids, so much so, I have to use eyeshadow primer – even when I’m not wearing eyeshadow. On the flipside, I struggle with incredibly dry cheeks, undereyes and lips. But my biggest gripes are actually hyperpigmentation and the dark circles I’ve inherited, both of which are common in Asian skin. I flit between products, never persevering with anything for long because my job requires me to try everything.

I visited skincare specialist Debbie Thomas at the D.Thomas Clinic in London’s Chelsea. Thomas notes a lot of the products I’m using are what she calls ‘counter products’. That means they work but don’t contain many active ingredients (‘ingredients that change what your skin is doing in some way shape or form’). It’s recommended that

I instead try cosmeceutical products that can really transform the skin. It’s also important to stick with them over time to see the effects, something I’m going to try for once.

During the appointment, I had pictures taken of my skin using a facial scanning device. Thomas explained my skin was generally in good condition but certain areas were prone to dryness and, surprisingly, I showed some signs of sensitivity. My new routine starts with NeoStrata’s Skin Active Exfoliating Wash, £33, to slough away dead skin cells. Each morning, I use Medik8’s C-Tetra Eye Lipid Vitamin C Antioxidant Serum, £19, to target the dark circles, followed by an all-over SPF 50. At night, I use a hydrating cream, a retinol-based eye cream, and Radara Eye Patches, £165 for a 28-day regime – unique micro-chanelling patches that encourage new collagen and help ingredients penetrate deeper into skin.

Just a few days in and I can see a difference – my skin looks healthier, make-up blends more seamlessly and although there’s no difference in my dark circles or pigmentation, Thomas told me change comes over time so right now I’m feeling pretty optimistic.”

The Skin Kit:

 Radara Eye Patches

Radara Eye Patches

£165, radara.co.uk

NeoStrata Skin Active Exfoliating Wash

NeoStrata Skin Active Exfoliating Wash

£33, neostrata.com

Medik8 C-Tetra Eye Lipid Vitamin C Antioxidant Serum

Dermatologist recommended skincare

£19, medik8.com

The tips to pass on:

  • Exfoliating is important to get rid of dead skin cells. If you’re short on time, find a cleanser that incorporates an acid to do this for you.
  • Active ingredients can take up to nine months to work before you see a change.
  • Stick with your routine.

“I was intimidated by an elaborate routine”

Rosamund Dean, 38, Stylist’s acting deputy editor, has always kept her routine simple, just like her mum. She saw Dr Catherine Borysiewicz at The Cadogan Clinic.

“I inherited beauty scepticism from my mum, who insists that ‘all you need is a bar of soap’ – that and her trusty Olay moisturiser. So, like her, I kept my routine simple, replacing soap with Clean & Clear in my spotty teenage years, and then micellar water because I liked the satisfaction of seeing the day’s grime on a cotton pad.

I have normal skin, but now face the classic 30-something conundrum: I still get the odd spot, but am also starting to see lines around my eyes. I was apprehensive about seeing a dermatologist, assuming she would think micellar water is lazy (I don’t have the energy to double cleanse) and that I should be spending more money on a posh moisturiser.

Dr Borysiewicz has a warm, matter-of-fact manner (and reassuringly glowy skin). Actually, she said micellar water is a great cleanser. And the foaming face wash I use in the shower? ‘Just make sure it’s soap-free.’ Hear that, mum? Interestingly, she explained there’s no point buying a pricey cleanser or moisturiser (she recommends CeraVe’s Foaming Facial Cleanser, £9 – very affordable). The place to splurge is on ‘treatment creams’. She examined my face under a lamp and decreed that I could use The Ordinary’s Retinol 0.5% in Squalane, £4.20. I’ve tried retinol, I said, but it made my face tight and sensitive.

She explained that can happen initially; you have to tough it out to reap the benefits. She proposed a method called ‘short contact’, where you build up the time the retinol is on your skin until you can wear it overnight. Above all, SPF is vital, every single day (she suggests La Roche Posay’s Anthelios XL SPF 50, £16.50).

Having been nervous about being prescribed an elaborate (and expensive) regime, actually, the only thing I need to do every day is cleanse and wear sunscreen. I can use the treatments sporadically, and don’t even have to moisturise every day if I don’t need it.

This regime isn’t complicated or time-consuming, but it feels sciencey and effective. I’ll be sticking with it.”

The Skin Kit:

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane

£4.50, cultbeauty.co.uk

CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser

CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser

£9, lookfantastic.com

La Roche Posay Anthelios XL SPF 50

La Roche Posay Anthelios XL SPF 50

The tips to pass on:

  • Use a minimum of SPF 50 every day.
  • Always make sure your cleanser is ‘soap-free’, so as not to disrupt your skin’s pH balance.
  • Spend your money wisely. Invest in treatment creams, such as retinol or vitamin C serums.

“I believed pollution was affecting my skin”

Sarah Lakos, 28, Stylist’s social media editor, moved to the UK from Australia and her routine went AWOL. She spoke to Dr Justine Kluk on London’s Harley Street.

“My skin has always been normal and low-maintenance but, when I moved to London 18 months ago, I blamed new breakouts around my mouth and forehead on the pollution. In the morning, I applied Clinique moisturiser with SPF 30 and make-up straight onto my uncleansed skin. If my face looked dull at the end of a long week, I’d do an elaborate DIY facial with various clay and hydrating masks.

I spoke with Dr Justine Kluk over FaceTime so, without her being able to inspect my skin in person, she asked a lot of questions about my lifestyle, health and family history. I had a huge lightbulb moment about my mystery breakouts. I was vehemently blaming London’s pollution – yet, before I moved, I swapped my usual contraception for a hormonal IUD. Dr Kluk said she sees this a lot with women who change their birth control method and, although harder to manage (as it’s all down to hormones), a consistent skincare routine would help. She was surprised (read: disappointed) to hear I wasn’t cleansing in the morning. And when I spoke to her about the dullness of my skin, she said it was time to up the anti-ageing ingredients in my skincare. This included retinol, antioxidants and an SPF 50 applied daily.

My new routine starts with cleansing, both morning and night. I remove make-up and dirt with micellar water and then follow up with a cream cleanser. Each morning, I use an anti-pollution serum, azelaic acid (an anti-inflammatory that helps to ease breakouts and heal scarring) and an SPF 50 gel. Dr Kluk also recommended a brilliant Vichy lightweight foundation, which is non-comedogenic so won’t block my pores, and has been a make-up game changer as I used to wear heavy foundation six days a week. Every other night in the evenings, I use a retinol serum after cleansing – I’m slowly building up my skin’s tolerance to it. My complexion already looks brighter, with a much more consistent texture.

I do still have a few spots but I’m told that they’re to be expected while my skin settles into its new routine.”

The Skin Kit:

 Heliocare XF SPF 50 Gel

Heliocare XF SPF 50 Gel

£33, facethefuture.co.uk

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 6

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 6

£59, dermacaredirect.co.uk

Vichy Dermablend Fluid Corrective Foundation

£20, superdrug.com

The tips to pass on:

  • Cleanse in the morning – pillows are covered in dust and sweat.
  • A regular routine shouldn’t be overlooked. Skin likes – and responds to – consistency.
  • If you’re prone to breakouts, check that your make-up is non-comedogenic (non-pore blocking).

“I thought oils and moisturisers were key”

Hannah Keegan, 23, Stylist’s features writer, believed that heavy moisturisers and oils would soothe her dry skin. She visited Dr Stefanie Williams at Eudelo.

“I’ve always had dry skin so, even though I kept my routine pretty basic, I slathered on heavy creams and oils every night – fearful I’d wake up with tight, chalky skin without them. As a result, I’d get breakouts. It was a catch-22 situation.

Dr Williams used a facial-scanning device that resembles a small washing machine to analyse my skin. It measures texture, wrinkling, redness, invisible sun damage and pore size while you rest your head in the centre of the machine for 10 minutes. It then gives each category a percentage out of 100 compared to your peer group. While I aced the test for pore size and elasticity, I got a shock when it came to sun damage. I’m in the bottom 1%. My skin is pale, freckly and prone to sunburn, so I’ve always been careful – it didn’t make sense to me. Dr Williams reassured me it was accumulative since childhood and mostly reversible. She said my skin also isn’t as dry as I believed and that by dousing it in heavy creams, I was, in fact, making it drier. Skin gets lazy when you’re doing its job for it, plus layers of heavy products can trap dead skin and acne-causing bacteria.

My recommended routine is focused on repairing sun damage and boosting my skin’s natural moisture levels. Dr Williams warned me that my face would feel drier at first as it adjusts to having to remember how to work all on its own. It involves using Avène’s Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion, £10.50, in the morning, followed by a vitamin C serum and an SPF 50 gel for brightening and sun-protection. It’s important to use a separate SPF, as well as that in any make-up, to protect against skin-damaging UV rays – even in winter. In the evening, I use SkinCeuticals Retexturing Activator serum, £85, and the skin-repairing La Roche Posay Redermic R Anti-Ageing Concentrate Intensive, £29.50, which I’m slowly building up to using three times a week. So far, my skin feels like it’s adjusting to lighter creams day-by-day.

I’m told in three months the difference will be visible and I can’t wait.”

The Skin Kit:

SkinCeuticals Retexturing Activator

SkinCeuticals Retexturing Activator

£85, effortlessskin.com

 La Roche Posay Redermic R Anti-Ageing Concentrate Intensive

La Roche Posay Redermic R Anti-Ageing Concentrate Intensive

£29.50, escentual.com

Avène Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion

£10.50, boots.com

The tips to pass on:

  • Don’t make your skin lazy. Avoid piling on heavy oils and moisturisers.
  • A low SPF in your make-up isn’t enough. Use a factor 50 underneath it.
  • Sun damage can be reversed by building up your use of products containing vitamin A.